When is an influencer no longer an influencer?

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YouTuber Zoella

Nowadays “influencer relations” is pretty common practice in marketing and PR tactics. Basically, collaborating with influencers in order to get a brand message across. An online influencer is anyone who has built a large audience or following online, in particular via a blog, YouTube or Instagram (amongst others). Sometimes brands will send influencers products for free, but more often than not collaborations are paid for and can take many different forms: product endorsement, content production, event hosting… and more.

Brands use this tactic knowing that influencers have a lot to offer, most notably, a ready built and large (depending on the influencer) audience. Not only that but they have credibility and are trusted, having built a relationship with their audience over time.

Because influencers are independent, they are considered to be more objective. As they value their audience, you will often hear them say that they receive lots of requests for collaboration yet only pick the ones they believe are the best fit. In turn, brands recognize influencer’s power and the reach of their words.

But how long does an influencer retain their influence? In my last post I spoke about YouTuber Casey Neistat and his “identity crisis”. A few days after he quit vlogging, news hit that he had sold his company Beme to CNN and would henceforth be working for the news channel. Of course this sparked outrage amongst his fans, even though he reassured them that he was entirely free to do what he wanted and that there was no specific project outlined yet.

This may actually be considered a smart move by CNN, in an age when fake news is rife and people are feeling upset and misrepresented. Why not call on an influencer, someone who is a good story teller and movie maker, who already has a large audience and is respected? Someone who will be closer to the people and be able to bring them news they can identify with and find credible.

But the other day, Casey posted a video called “Millionaire YouTube Sellout”. It would seem thatscreen-shot-2017-02-10-at-22-33-25 since his move to CNN, people have continued to criticize him for his choice and label him a sellout. You may or may not agree, but it does raise an interesting question. If Casey is a sellout, is he no longer an “influencer”? Does his audience no longer trust him or want to listen to him? And if so, what is his value to CNN?

It raises an important point. Influencer collaborations are generally well tolerated and are fruitful for both parties. But influencers should continue to be careful about the types of proposals they accept and be cognisant of the trust their audience has placed in them. It’s often thanks to their audience that they have achieved such success and the trust shouldn’t be broken.

Similarly, brands and companies should really think twice about the type of collaboration they propose to influencers. What do they seek to get out of it? How do they think it will be perceived by the public and could it backfire for both parties?

Let’s not create the next generation of YouTube sellouts, let’s remain authentic.

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